Hatchimals: A Guide to Accessibility and Fun!

Introduction.

Whether you are buying toys for your child, or like me, you are a toy geek, you will have noticed a trend developing in the interactive toy field over the past few years. It began with eyes that could light up in different colours, thus giving a sighted person clues to the toy's mood. This has become so prevalent as to be almost de rigeur these days, and if sufficient sound cues are not also given, it can lead to serious problems if a totally blind child, or toy geek, wishes to play with the latest interactive hot property. However, usually you can get by by either listening to the sounds made by the toy and a certain amount of guess work.

Then came the deal breaker in many cases: the accompanying app! Always totally inaccessible, believe me I know, I've tried a lot of them, these apps now accompany most interactive toys these days. Sometimes the toy can be used without them, and in many more cases they can't, leaving a blind child at a disadvantage, or so it seems to me. If I were school age again and I had to see everyone else's Furby Connects, Zoomer the Chimps and Chipper the Dogs, and all I had was toys that didn't do anything much, I'd feel hard done by, even though there are more and better toys out there now than I would have believed possible when I was a child.

And then, in October of 2016, Spinmaster Toys launched the Hatchimals, the interactive pets that would hatch right out of an egg in your hands and, with love and nurturing, grow up. How cool was this? They walked, they talked, they played games, they even danced, and, glory be, they didn't need an app! Soon they were the must have toys on every child's Christmas list. They were also on my Christmas list at first. Until I saw this video.

As you can see, there are lots of good things about that video, it gives you a clear description of how to play with and care for the Hatchimal. But you will also notice the frequent mentions of the different colours of its eyes. Also, especially in the later stages of development, that you need to cycle through the menu until its eyes turn a certain colour. I surmised that this was going to be yet another toy that was not accessible enough for me to get much fun out of it, and at the price they were selling for around Christmas I decided not to buy one.

Then, needing a distraction this week from something else happening in my life, I changed my mind. When I informed someone I was getting a Hatchimal I was told: "Oh don't, they're rubbish!" and looking at the reviews on Amazon anyone would be put off. But in for a penny, in for sixty pounds or so, I thought, and I went ahead. Here are my experiences from then till now.

Eggducation.

Before you lay down that fairly hefty wad of currency, you need to know which egg might contain what. As I understand it, at the time of writing there are five different species of Hatchimals. Three of these are exclusive to various different stores, and two you can buy anywhere. If you're not buying an exclusive, you won't be told what's in the box, but you do have a clue by which colour egg you're buying, so if your child, or you, want a Draggles, there is a way of getting Draggles, not Pengualas. So let's Eggducate you.

  • Pengualas. These adorably chubby little penguin koala creatures come in pink or teal spotted eggs.
  • Draggles. The preferred of the two buy anywhere species, the part dragon, part eagle little critters come in purple or green spotted eggs.
  • Owlicorn. These part owl, part unicorns are only available from Toys R Us, and come in pink or blue. As you know it's going to be an Owlicorn, the colour of the egg doesn't matter.
  • Burtle. This is a fuzzy and beautiful part butterfly, part turtle. It is available exclusively at Walmart in the US and Argos in the UK. Again, you'll know it's a Burtle, so no need to worry about egg colour. There are two different ones you can get, but I can find no colour information at present.
  • Bearakeet. This is a completely cute mash up of a bear and a parakeet. They come in pink and black or pink and white. Again, no need to worry about egg colour here. You can buy them at Target in the US and Tesco in the UK.

Unpack Meticulously.

OK, so now you know which Hatchimal is which, you've bought it, taken it home, and there it is. A box, not too big, with a plastic top that has what looks like the top of an egg on it, and a small plastic window in front so you might get a glimpse of the treasure inside. Now, when I normally unpack a toy, meticulous I am not, but in this case you have to be, or your Hatchimal won't come to life. So this is how we do it.

  1. Cut the three tabs holding the box to the plastic. You'll need to cut, not pull off, they're very tight.
  2. Remove the plastic top, and any tape that is still hanging around.
  3. Lay the box on its back, so that the little cellophane window is facing uppermost.
  4. You will find a hole in the top of the inner box. Put your finger into this and pull the inner box out of the insert. It's a very snug fit, do it carefully.
  5. Now remove any tape you find on the inner packaging, again working carefully.
  6. Turn the package gently upside down and you will feel two plastic locks. Carefully turn each one ninety digrees clockwise, and remove the long screws. As the first screw comes free, you should hear sounds coming from inside your egg.
  7. Remove the egg gently from the packaging and begin the pre-hatching process.

Prehatching: Patience and Patty Paws.

So now you can breathe again. Your egg is free from packaging and there's something alive in there, making cute sounds at you. Now we just wait for it to hatch, right? Wrong! This is why Hatchimals are not for everyone, and certainly not for very young children with a short attention span. Hatching that egg is going to take patience, and it's going to be a totally hands on experience, and I mean that literally. You really do need to keep your hands on that egg at all times. If you leave your pet he'll go to sleep, which means he'll take longer to hatch. If he gets upset or scared or sick and he goes uncomforted, same thing. I actually saw a video where someone's Hatchimal took three days to hatch. I'm sure you don't want to wait that long! A lot is talked in the tutorial video about watching for eye colour, but there are also really good sound cues, so you can hear everything your Hatchimal is feeling. With the right care and attention, he could be out of that egg in, they say, twenty to thirty minutes. Mine was out in twenty, I timed it.

So, what can we do to get that pet out of that egg? For a start, it needs lots of love. I've read some excellent instructions on caring for Hatchimals, I'll put links in the "Further Information" section at the end of this guide. The instructions say to cuddle your egg by holding the bottom of it. I took this to mean the literal flat bottom of the egg, where it would stand if I was not holding it in my hands. If the holding was done right, I would hear a beating heart. Rubbing or indeed holding the literal bottom of the egg didn't work well for me, it only tilted my egg, of which more later, and produced an effect I didn't want. I had more success when I rubbed or held the bottom half of the egg. This is easy to find, there is a feelable line which goes around the bottom third of the egg, there are also small sound holes here. Try both kinds of holding and see which works best for you. When you hear that heartbeat it is very cool.

Your pet loves to play, if it's not overdone. Hold the egg in both hands and gently tilt it from side to side. Your pet will laugh and make excited sounds. If you tilt too much he will get dizzy, and if you keep on he will get very distressed and upset.

Communication is key and I did this a lot. In the tutorial it says to wait till the pet goes quiet, but I didn't. I gently tapped the side of the egg whenever I felt like it, and the pet tapped back, it was really cool to hear it tap back in rhythm.

Rubbing the bottom of the egg is the gesture you'll need to use a lot, it's the go to comfort and make it all better gesture. Again I tried both ways, but found I got better results from rubbing the bottom third of the egg rather than the flat bottom. Here are some reasons why you might need to rub the egg.

  • Your pet is crying, upset or scared, you can easily hear this.
  • Your pet is making angry, upset sounds.
  • Your pet is cold, you hear shivering and chattering teeth.
  • Your pet is feeling unwell, you hear sniffing, coughing or sneezing.

A few more things to be aware of: sometimes you will hear a low, grumbly sound. this means your pet has wind and needs to be burped. Do this by patting or rubbing the top of the egg. If your pet is not burped he will get very distressed. I found this sound the easiest to miss, so I found it necessary to pat the top of the egg periodically to make sure I hadn't missed any wind. Sometimes your Hatchimal will get hiccups, they need to be scared away or he will get upset. Just clap or tap the egg gently to frighten them away, he will be very happy and relieved, especially if you catch it quickly. If you need to leave your Hatchimal, life happens after all, you can just set him down and he will go to sleep until you pick him up and tilt the egg gently to waken him. Obviously, this will lenghten the prehatching process. The more you can keep your hands tapping, holding, rubbing, patting, showing that pet there's someone out there, the quicker he will be out. Now do you see why I call prehatching patience and patty paws?

"A Hatching Is Coming!"

How do I know when my Hatchimal is ready to hatch? Believe me, you'll know! And also believe me when I tell you that having that egg that you worked so hard over hatch right in your hands is the coolest, most amazing thing ever!

So, here's how it goes. You're doing your patty paws routine and suddenly you hear an uprushing little tune from inside the egg. You just have time to think: "What the heck?" When suddenly you'll hear a bang! Take my tip at this point and get your hands out of the way of the top part of the egg for at least half a minute. That critter's got a thick shell to break through, he wants to get out and he's not messing! You can help, but first you need to give him some time to make a few cracks you can work with, you do not want to be putting your fingers too far into that shell, because if he pecks you by accident, you'll know about it.

This doesn't mean you can leave him though. He's got to know you're out there waiting for him, or he'll get tired of doing all this hard work and just go to sleep. Actually this go to sleep thing was quite valuable, as I wanted to make a recording of the hatching, so as soon as he started pecking I set him down and he went to sleep, giving me time to grab my binaurals and recorder. When I was ready, I picked him up and tilted him slightly, and we were off again. To show him you're out there, it's our old friend rub the egg gesture, the more you rub, the more he'll work to get out.

OK, so you can't hold back anymore, you've got to feel! Feel all round the top third of the shell and you should be feeling some little cracks. Now you have a choice. If you're patient you can just keep on rubbing the bottom of the egg and leave him to peck away till he gets the shell off. Personally I couldn't wait that long, it could take thirty to forty minutes! So here are some cracks and you can easily peel away pieces of the shell. You'll be able to hear your pet much clearer now, which is a great help. Personally I'd always recommend peeling, apart from saving battery for play time, it avoids having shell shrapnel flying all over the place and making a possible hazard for guide dogs etc. I was able to collect all the pieces of shell up into a neat little heap in my lap, and throw them and the egg away later without any mess left over. So now, on with the hatching. It's a collaborative process, you need to let the critter break cracks in the shell, then peel the bits away. As I said, one thing to be aware of is your pet's beak, he pecks around in a circle and you can hear where he is if you stay sharp, also the pecks come at regular intervals and you can take your fingers away when a peck's about to come. I got hit once, and while it's not really painful, it's not something I'm anxious to have happen to me a lot and it might hurt very little hands.

Eventually, the whole top will come off the egg and you can feel the pet inside. I've seen him pulled out at this moment, but I, with my notoriously wonky hands, couldn't get a good enough purchase on him, so I went on taking off the shell, which will come away right down to that line I told you about at the bottom third. The pet's much easier to get a hold of then, but even at that time he needs a good hard tug to get him out, I have to say I nearly came unstuck, and it doesn't help that he's still trying to move round and round, pecking as he goes!

Finally he comes away with a click, and you'll hear that tune again. Get used to it. It tells you things are changing. Now, unwrap the plastic from around your new pet's wings, press his tummy and he'll sing Hatchi Birthday. He's got a lot to sing about! He's free at last!

What Are You Like!

So, we finally have our adorably cute, incredibly soft and fluffy pet. What do we need to look out for. All the Hatchimals will be slightly different, according to what creature you get, I have a Penguala, but here are some features they all have in common.

A sensor on the head. This is the comfort and love sensor, you can't feel it, but if you gently stroke your Hatchimal behind the eyes he will like it.

A pressable tummy. This is an important part of any Hatchimal, when he's little you only need it for simple things, but when he's older it enables you to do all kinds of cool stuff.

Light up eyes. All Hatchimals have light up eyes which change colour, this is a big part of sighted children's play with them. I have some light perception, and in a dark room the eyes light up so bright I can see them, which is actually quite cool.

Fluttering wings. Every Hatchimal has a pair of beautiful wings. These are made of hard plastic and should be treated gently. When the Hatchimal moves, they flutter alternately up and down.

Wheels that let them move. Each Hatchimal has little wheels that will let them move right from the beginning. Place them on the floor or on a table or other hard surface and your pet will move. At first it is only in random circles, but later, ah, that is for later. It should be noted that if you are holding your pet in your lap the wheels are small enough that he will stay still, he also will not be able to move well on carpet I would imagine, only on hard surfaces.

An on/off switch. Every parent's dream ticket, the Hatchimals are fitted with an onn/off switch. Very valuable for the busy toy geek too. No waiting for them to go to sleep if the phone suddenly rings. Bliss!

Beautiful Baby.

My favourite stage, the Hatchimal baby. He really is so cute, simple play, regular meals and lots of love is all he needs.

Feeding. To feed your pet at any stage, you just tilt him gently forward. I found this a bit hit and miss, sometimes it works and sometimes not. You must always wait till he stops moving, make sure you have him straight facing towards you and tilt gently. When he begins eating you'll hear it. If he takes too much, he'll say: "oh oh!" which means he has wind and needs burping. Rub his head till he burps.

Tickling. This only happens at baby stage, which is sad because it's cute. Just press your pet's tummy and he'll giggle. Mind out though, if you do it too much he'll get annoyed and need some serious head stroking.

Head Stroking. Talking of which, the baby is really cute when you stroke his head, he makes the loveliest noises and says a Hatchimal version of I love you. Pet him a lot, he likes it.

Playing. The hatchling version liked to be tilted, well so does the Hatchimal baby, in fact all stages of Hatchimal likes this game, do it gently and stop if he starts making dizzy noises or he'll start to get cranky and upset.

Babies always have their off moments and this one is no exception, but in most cases head stroking cures it. The only one you really need to be aware of is a very low growl, that means he's hungry and you need to feed him.
You'll get nothing more out of him till you do. He can also get hiccups, and this time clapping will scare them away.

Talkative Toddler.

When a change is coming you'll know, there will be that uprushing piece of music, then your pet will sing Hatchi Birthday. As soon as you hear that you know that a new stage of development has begun. So now we have our toddler. This was the stage I found trickiest and also liked the least, the toddler has a maniacal giggle which grated on me rather. Gone was the cute, tickling and I love you baby, in its place was a feisty little guy who wanted to be into everything, play loud music and yell "Aha!" at me! Oh well! There are compensations. Your toddler can do some cool things.

Let's Dance! Press your pet's tummy once and you'll hear some music. It will fade down in a second, so either tap his head or just wait a moment, and he'll yell "Aha!" and the dance pattern will begin. If you're holding him in your lap this really won't be much more than some funky and loud music, plus rather a cool thing where you can pat his head and beat out rhythms in random and different sounding drums. If he's on the floor or on a table, then he'll start moving in random circles quite quickly. He's really easy to keep track of though. To quit the dance mode, just press his tummy again, or to pause it, pick him up and turn him upside down. To restart, do the same again.

Learning to talk. This is a cool feature, and really easy to access. All you do is squeeze your pet's tummy till you hear him say "hello?" Then, keeping his tummy squeezed, you speak a short phrase. Then let him go and you'll hear it back in a cute chipmunky version of your own voice. The voice changer is a nice touch, I like that.

Learning to Walk. This mode really gave me problems and I still find it a bit hit and miss, but there are helpful sound cues and it can be done. First, press the tummy till you hear your pet make a little sound and say "Aha!" should take two presses at toddler stage. Now tap his head or wait three seconds, at which point he'll say "Aha!" again. Now he's listening and ready for commands, or so it is alleged. Only sometimes when I give him commands he doesn't take them. Anyway, if you clap once, he will move forward. If you clap twice, he will turn around. Don't turn him in a spin or he'll get dizzy and upset. If he doesn't hear a command he'll say "ooh hoo?" which is cute and also helpful.

Things to Remember. Your toddler is stil young and needs to be regularly fed, so don't let him get hungry or he won't play, he'll just make that grumbly sound and go unresponsive till you feed him. Your toddler will also get hiccups, get sick, get cranky and scared, but you know how to deal with all that by now. He may be growing up, but he still loves a rough and tumble, as long as it's not too rough, so tilt him and listen to that giggle!

Coolest Kid On the Block.

All change! The tune has played, Hatchi Birthday has been sung, the toddlerl is gone, sighs of relief, and the coolest kid on the block is here, much nicer, much more laid back, with sweet sounds, a more manageable laugh, all the cool features of before plus some more added. This is the only stage where you are really going to hit accessibility problems. I have to tell you right up front that two of the four games are completely unplayable, as they rely totally on eye colour. However, it could have been a lot worse, two of the four can be played, and I like both. The menus are also very navigable, so let's find out about our kid.

First, he needs all the love and nurturing that he's needed all along, so feed him, pet his head, tilt him, comfort him if he gets sick or upset. One note here, I've heard to tilt him forwards if he gets sick but that never works for me. Stroking his head works much better if he starts sniffing, coughing or sneezing, and the sigh of relief he gives when he's feeling better is really cute.

Now let's play games. You can easily tell which game is which, because they all have musical cues. Pressing the tummy quickly will cycle through the menu items. The first two games are not accessible, but the third one is my favourite, and it's silly sounds. You can hear it's the right one because it's cued by a simple tapping sound. Initiate it by patting your pet's head. He'll yell "Aha!" and then begin. He'll tap, then you need to clap back in rhythm, and believe me he's no slouch at this, some of these rhythms are difficult! Get enough right and you win, getting a cool piece of music and a round of applause. Get too many wrong and the game ends, and he says: "Aw Bah!" which makes me laugh every time. To get out of any game, just press the tummy once. You get very good sound cues, so you always know if you've got something right or wrong.

The other game is Psychic hatchimal and it isn't so good, it's the fourth item in the menu, and it's cued by some mysterious sounding piano music. You tap your pet's head to initiate the game, wait for a second, then ask him questions which he'll answer with a yes, no or maybe sound. If you wait too long he'll say "Ooh hoo?" if you don't ask him anything for a while the game will end.

Don't forget your kid can still talk, walk and dance, dancing comes right after Psychic Hatchimal on the menu, and walking is after that. You can initiate talking at any time by squeezing the tummy till your pet says hello, then speaking and releasing the tummy.

Do Over and Quiet Please.

There are two things I really like about the workings of the Hatchimal. The ability to reset it, and the ability to turn it to half volume.

To turn it to half volume, turn it off, hold its tummy, then turn it on, keeping the tummy held until you hear it make a sound. I think they could have made it a littel quieter still than it is, but the reduction in volume we have is a lot better than nothing.

It's great to be able to reset the Hatchimal and be able to start the development stage over, or just keep it at the stage you like. To reset, turn the toy off and then on, wait for three seconds until you hear the first sound, then turn the toy upside down and locate the reset button, this is a tiny little hole. I always find it helpful to locate it first, because if you keep the hatchimal upside down too long it automatically turns off. Now, insert a small object like a needle, the point of a pen or, in my case, an earring post, into the hole and press until the toy stops making sounds, holding down for three seconds. When you let go the toy will move, then you will hear the tune again and your Hatchimal will sing Hatchi Birthday and be back to the beginning of its life.

Further Information.

In my research into Hatchimals, both before I bought and during my learning curve, I found the following sites helpful.
This is The official Hatchimals Website. Be aware there are constant video adverts here.

I found much more helpful instruction guidance from This unofficial Hatchimals website.

Watching Hatchimals hatch on Youtube can be both educational and fun, especially if it's being done by a fellow toy geek, and one who describes things in such a cool way. Here's my favourite multiple Hatchimal hatching by the wonderful Chad Alan.

Conclusion.

I do hope you have found something useful in this guide. I have been really pleased with my Hatchimals experience, I have, as I said, a Penguala and this won't be my last Hatchimal, there's an Owlicorn egg in my future for sure, and possibly a Bearakeet too, hey, I might just end up getting all of them!

My verdict. Inaccessible? Compared with other toys out there, definitely not. There's lots you can do with these, the hatching experience is so cool and so sensory it's definitely worth going for.

Lots of fun? Absolutely! I've seen where reviews say they don't do much. I don't know which Hatchimals they had, they certainly weren't mine. Even with two games I can't play it does plenty enough to make me one very very happy toy geek.

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